A former Vigo County judge is suing an Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation police officer in federal court, claiming false arrest.

John C. Kite said he was bird watching in rural Vermillion County in or near Universal on March 15, 2018, in an effort to gather information for a Cornell University project.

Kite finished up his birding, returned to his car and had turned it around on Vermillion County Road 1350 South when a man on the roadside wearing camouflage pants flagged him down, according to the lawsuit.

Kite said he at first thought the man wanted to say hello but the man, later identified as Deland Szczepanski, accused him of acting suspicious and then produced a badge and told him he was a police officer.

Although Szczepanski did not identify which department he was with, he was wearing a holstered semiautomatic handgun and had with him a large dog that Kite said appeared to be some sort of police dog, according to the lawsuit.

Based on Szczepanski's comments, Kite learned the nearest house was Szczepanski's residence, according to the lawsuit.

The officer reportedly said he did not like people stopping near or in front of his residence. Upon Kite's explanation he had been bird watching and used to live in the area, Szczepanski demanded Kite's drivers license.

Kite said Szczepanski explicitly told him he was not free to leave, would not provide him with an answer as to what sort of crime or wrongdoing he was suspected of and would not provide a reason for Kite's being detained. The stop lasted from 20 to 30 minutes, according to the lawsuit.

Kite alleges false arrest. He contends Szczepanski had no probable cause nor particular reason to detain him and that the officer's actions were a violation of his constitutional rights. He says the officer's actions caused him significant mental and emotional harm.  

The lawsuit was filed June 11 by attorney Robert P. Kondras Jr. in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division.

An IDNR spokeswoman in Indianapolis said the department's attorneys had yet to see the lawsuit, and the IDNR generally does not comment on pending litigation.

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